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Posts Tagged ‘British Politics

Orwell, Fake News, Alt-Right, Alt- Left and…. Skwawkbox.

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Orwell and Fake News, Alt-Right, Alt-Right.

George Orwell never ceases being cited. These days he more often appears for good reasons than for bad ones.

Recently people have had recourse to Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes in Salvador Dali (1944) in order to defend his ability as a “ good draftsman” while being, “a disgusting human being”. That qualified support highlighted, few share the judgement that the Surrealist’s “Mannequin rooting in a taxicab’ as “diseased and disgusting”. The important idea, one, which Orwell repeats about Dickens as Bechhofer Roberts published an early version of what much later developed in the account of the Other Woman, Ellen Ternan, is the distinction between public work and “private life”. In this instance Dali’s alleged infidelity, and the search for his DNA to prove paternity, is irrelevant to the merits or otherwise of his products.

A more weighty issue is taken up in yesterday’s le Monde (Relire « 1984 » à l’ère de la post-vérité). Stéphane Foucart discusses Orwell as a reference in the era of “post-truth” (post-verité). He quotes Looking Back on the Spanish War (1942), “..for the first, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary life.” Life in Republican Spain was portrayed as “one long massacre” by the pro-Franco British press. Orwell went on to imagine a future in which “the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only he future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event “it never happened” – well it never happened. If he says that two and two are five – well, two and two are five.”

English speaking readers are more familiar with this passage, a premonition of the theme of 1984, than French, who, to Foucart, only began to register that dystopia in the 1980s, with intellectuals such as Michael Gauchet dismissing it. More recently there are those who have taken Orwell to their hearts, for his “common decency”. The idea that the over boiled cabbage and Thought Police of Ingsoc, and a planet divided into three rival Party-Oligarchies, has relevance today may seem to stretch a point.

That we know that the past is both so obviously not there, yet is worthy of objective inquiry in ways that other ‘not theres’ are not, is an old metaphysical difficulty. That the standard of objectivity was weakened by what used to be fashionable in the old days of ‘post-modernism’ is well known. But that there are different ‘truths’, a liberal, in the American sense, rather than a conservative principle has become less about controlling history than the present. Was the telly screen a rudimentary form of the Internet asks Foucart? Are Trump’s efforts to purge the Presidential archives of documents challenging his view on climate change? ‘Alternative facts’, reports that bear no relation to truth, have, with the sacking of the White House’s Sean Spicer is now a topic which has made the news.

The Media and State Power.

Orwell was concerned not just with Red Atrocity reports in the Daily Mail. He also wrote of the potential totalitarian effects of government control of the media, in his time the Radio. He defended freedom of expression against all forms of censorship, including the suppression of critical reports about the USSR which he believed was taking place post-war in favour of “uncritical admiration of the Soviet Union” (The freedom of the press – Animal Farm. 1945). As Orwell later wrote, “If you do not like the Communism you are a red-baiter, a believer in Bolshevik atrocities, the nationalism of women, Moscow Gold and so on.” (In Defence of Comrade Zilliacus. 1947. Intended for Tribune, not published…)

The Trump administration has power. But there is nothing resembling an effective state broadcasting monopoly outside of North Korea, despite accusations against the People’s Republic. Trump supporters have their networks, their web sites, the loud media outlets. The British right has the dailies, the internationally influential Mail, the declining Sun, the poor old Telegraph, the ageing Express and the Star, which few get beyond the front page to read. Its media imitations of the American alt-right, languish in obscurity. In Britain if these forces are capable of manufacturing truths, from the endless drip drip against migrant workers and Europe to scare-stories about left-wingers, and have an effect on opinion, they took a jolt at the last election. As the laughable Election Day front page of the Sun demonstrated so well.

The Alt-Left and Alternative Facts. 

Come the arrival of the ‘alt-left’. In Britain this means enthusiastic pro-Jeremy Corbyn people. Sites such as The Canary may not be to everyone’s taste but have a readership. But the debate over alternative facts has spread inside the left. Is it justified for Skwawkbox to engage in its own war of attrition with the arms of sensational, scaremongering, stories. The best known at the moment is their recent ‘scoop’ that claimed that everybody on disability benefit transferred to Universal Credit , who did not find a job in two years would be subject to sanctions? That is that they risk losing a large part (if not all) of their income?

This story has been demolished by Disabled People Against Cuts. (1)

Is their mealy-mouthed justification for running the tale acceptable?

They continue to publish wild stories.

That the Daily Mail has attacked the site with its own falsehoods does not give the author a free-pass when it comes to truth and accuracy. 

The writer of 1984 did not live in the age of click-bait. Nor of self-publishing on an industrial scale. But some things have not changed. It would not be to misuse Orwell to cite this, “the controversy over freedom of speech and of the Press is at bottom the desirability, or otherwise, of telling lies. What is really at issue is the right to report contemporary events truthfully. Or as truthfully as is consistent with the ignorance, bias and self-deception from which every observer necessarily suffers.” (The Prevention of Literature. 1947)

***
(1) The 2 year job rule for disabled people on Universal Credit is not true!

Disabled People Against Cuts.

Thank you to Gail Ward who put this together.

In the last few days it has been widely reported by various bloggers that those disabled claimants claiming Universal Credit are subjected to finding a job within two years or face a 1 year sanction. This is utter fabrication and feeding many claimants fears which could potentially cause harm. So today I called Welfare Rights ,who called DWP while I remained on the phone, they denied that this information was correct and was downright alarmist and dangerous. That doesn’t mean I trust DWP and have submitted a FOI too given 7 years of shenanigans. So you see folks, you can take the fear project and destroy it with Facts!

All Orwell references in Essays. George Orwell. Everyman’s Library. 2002.

The Road to Somewhere. The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics. David Goodhart. Review.

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Review: The Road to Somewhere. The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics. David Goodhart. Hurst & Company. 2017.

A golden opportunity for commentators like the Brexit vote does not often come. For some on the left, the EU ‘neoliberal elites’ were given a welcome shock. Dismissing the role that organised fear of migrant workers played during the vote the ‘People’s Assembly’ sagely observes that racism played a part “in both sides” of the referendum campaign. In New Left Review, which has begun to dabble in British politics, Tom Hazeldine, declares that while the “rhetoric of Leave was anti-immigrant; the anger that powered it to victory came from decline.” (North and South. NLR 105. 2017) An unlikely mouthpiece, the Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, is recruited to express the view that it was a “vote against London”, “them down there”.

In words which could not doubt be taken from the Morning Star, Trade Unionists Against the EU, Spiked on Line, or the Socialist, and other anti “Brussels” outlets, we learn from Hazeldine that the “golden triangle of Whitehall, Westminster, St James” and the media “megaphones of the Remain Establishment”, were not strong enough to silence the voice of the authentic ‘rustbelt’ Northern proletariat, albeit – sotto voce – allied with “affluent Tory pensioners in the Tory shires.”

David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere shares many of the themes of these illustrious organs. It is billed as an essay on the faults of “metropolitan elites” and reflections on the reaction to them, the “populist revolt”, “a “socio cultural and identity phenomenon”. But the meat is in the emotions, above all the recoil from the EU. Preferring Charles Leadbeater to the Lexiters, he cites the fellow commentator, suggesting that the Brexit majority was also support “for pride, belonging, community, identity, and a sense of ‘home’ – it was rejection of the market…”(Page 53)

No doubt this is how some people think, though how many embrace the full list of opinions stuck together is hard to gauge. Goodhart makes a telling point against those who consider that a nationalist-led break up of “Ukania” (one-time New Leftist, Tom Nairn’s unfunny name for the United Kingdom, a joke so hoary I will confine it to a footnote) might escape this outpouring of glutinous sentiment, “Brexit was a movement to reclaim control/sovereignty from a supranational EU and the SNP is a movement to reclaim control/sovereignty from a multinational United Kingdom (though happy to cede sovereignty to and even more remote Brussels).”(Page 53) (1)

Somewheres and Anywheres.

The framework of The Road to Somewhere is set down by Goodhart’s distinction between “Anywheres” and “Somewheres”. The former, London urban based, university educated,  have “ a worldview for more or less successful individuals who also care about society”. They value autonomy and mobility and little interest in  “group identity, tradition and national social contracts (faith, flag and family)”. Set in contrast to such enthusiasts for “restless change” are those who are “more socially conservative and communitarian by instinct” who are not ease with contemporary cultural and economic transformations – ‘globalisation’ “mass immigration, an achievement society in which they struggle to achieve, the reduced status of non-graduate employment and more fluid gender roles.” For some this is a pronounced geographical identity that Hazeldine claims. For others they have something in common with the constituency called in France, the ” périurbain”, at the edges of cities, and the countryside, poorly served by public services and often, ‘disconnected’ rather than rooted, linked populist voting, and the Front National. Then there is the ‘left behind‘ feeling of many UKIP supporters, amply documented (Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain. Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin. 2014) This suggests a much more fragmented set of reasons and potential electoral reservoirs for ‘revolts’ against the ‘system’, often  less identity affirmation than resentment against others.

Put simply, this capitalised distinction enables Goodhart to draw lines between the core constituencies for Remain, and those who backed Leave. That is between those who are willing to “dilute the claims of national citizenship” in a “borderless Europe and the language of universal rights”, “and those who pushed by “Anywhere overreach” are both unwilling to “relinquish most national control over economic life” and wish for, “greater respect for national citizen protections”.

While Goodhart claims that the referendum debate largely pushed these concerns away from public debate, which was between two versions of ‘Anywheres’, a claim he does not pursue in detail, the Somewheres largely plumped for Leave. He, as an “apostate Anywhere” who claims to have supported Remain, can still find the better sides of the Somewheres. Some may be xenophobic and authoritarian, but there may also be support for – oddly not unlike his own favoured policies, “localism” in a globalised world, the importance of community and duties. There is need for dialogue with a “decent populism” that respects others and strives for social solidarity. Progressives, above all Labour,  wedded to metropolitan Anywhere elite ideas, needs to go out to the left-behind Somewheres; hooking up again with issues of economic justice to form national social contracts. 

Too Diverse.

Without any surprise the author of  Too diverse? (2004) which warned of that mass immigration erodes “feelings of mutual obligation, reducing willingness to pay tax and even encourag(es)  a retreat from the public domain.”does not try, as leftists do, to duck this issue. The founder of Prospect sees the Referendum result as the occasion to underline “concern about ethnic diversity”, and, EU sanctioned, “mass immigration”, which is “in-your-face-globalisation”. This is central area for a new social contract. The time has come, Goodhart asserts, to recognise the fears of “decent populists”, “to return to lower levels of immigration, place more emphasis on stability, and also renew the national social contract, especially in post-school education and employment.”(Page 233) He goes somewhat further in suggesting a diluted form of Marine Le Pen’s ‘national preference’, “In the future, temporary citizens should have more limited social and political rights – corresponding to their own transactional relationship with the country – and should leave after a few years.”(Page 126)

These ideas are straightforward proposals for re-creating the old German Gastarbeiter system. “Temporary citizens” will not only have fewer rights abut  will also be easy to use to undermine the very pay and conditions that ‘left’ critics of EU migration already complain about.

The Sovereigntist Impasse. 

The Road to Somewhere is riddled with unresolved difficulties. How limited with these grudging rights be? And how does Goodhart propose that this will deal with the ethnic segregation and ‘parallel lives’ of existing, often third or fourth generations from previous migrations? It is wrong to dismiss the idea that to at least set out common ground in “ethnically heterogeneous societies” might lie in the appeal to universal rights that have the great merit of transcending religious and national difference?

The new social contracts are another exercise in rhetoric. Does Goodhart seriously believe that national ‘sovereign’ control over the economy is going to be created by Parliamentary fiat? That the “will of the people”, the General Will, is going to come alive, take flesh, and reside in Westminster? That, in short, that the Labour Party should embrace the ‘sovereigntism’ of the nationalist left in some European countries? In other words is “listening” and giving space to the Somewheres just a pretty cheap means to justify supporting such a  turn? 

A more grounded, left, not ‘liberal’  approach would not take as given the idea that globalisation is a political decision of elites. It is equally, if not more fundamentally,  a financial and economic process that would take global measures, beginning from the decisions of the pooled sovereignty of bodies like the European Union, to transform? That it up to the organisations of civil society, starting with the trade unions, to agitate and to bring social justice in the workplace, challenge wage and condition undercutting, and to work for a Labour government that makes these goals part of law, and, as would be the case were we part of the EU, building blocks of a social Europe, Another Europe….

One wonders how the game of reading the runes of Brexit will end. There are those now stating that Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France is the result of a (voting) majority in favour of the market and neoliberalism. Others, keen to read so much oppositional potential into the British Referendum result seem suddenly to have discovered the merits of explaining election victories by Establishment hoodwinking Goodhart, no doubt, has his explanation-kit ready to hand: Anywheres won…..

*****

(1) “Nairn uses the term ‘Ukania’ to suggest the irrational and Ruritanian nature of the British constitutional monarchy. His original source for the term is the nickname “Kakania” that Robert Musil uses for the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy in The Man Without Qualities. ” The term Kakania was coined by Musil using the stem Kak – shit, cack. How we laughed! 

Psychedelic Bolsheviks.

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Psychedelic Bolshevik.

This important letter, in the latest Weekly Worker, amongst many others from esteemed figures in the workers’ movement, such as Steve Freeman (League Against the Corn Laws) , and less esteemed figures, such as the  anti-‘Zionist’  and anti-International ‘Jewish’ bourgeoisie, Gerry Downing,  caught our attention,

 

….we’re living through an election campaign where increasingly the act of thinking has been banned. Even when Corbyn expresses a desire to deal with poverty he is treated as if he has started a George Galloway on Big brother tribute act. The look in the journalists’ eyes seems to suggest the substance of his campaign has been to lap milk out of John McDonnell’s pocket. Words are never neutral and we have become trapped in a whirl of concepts that only serve to mask reality. Middle England is a cage on British politics – nothing but the wet dream of centrists.

Defending Corbyn is a defence of the simplest of all ideas – the idea things could actually be different. This seems banal, but in a world where it is recommended that anyone mentioning taxing the rich should be sent to have their brain bleached with liquid aspiration, and any mention of Marxism is cause for a lobotomy, it seems the only way forward.

But at the same time sowing any illusions in left reformism is a road to despondency, so the idea of a ‘critical vote’ for Labour needs serious consideration. That is why the Psychedelic Bolsheviks will be spraying the walls of Sheffield with posters declaring: “It’s better to rub dog shit in your carpet than rub dog shit in your eye”. Corbyn should don his catsuit and endlessly move his bins, because this is a clear sign of his humanity.

We will be making a poetry-heavy defence of thinking on June 17 with our second annual day school from 12 noon onwards in Norfolk Park, Sheffield – six meetings over one long picnic in the park. We will consider CLR James, the migrant crisis, situationism v surrealism, the election, organisation and spontaneity in the wake of 1917 – all rounded off with some sweet, improvised music.

Psychedelic Bolsheviks
Sheffield

Apparently they have a web site,

Comrade Ronksley of Sheffield Trades Council,

You think that meeting Picaso at Sheffield Fucking Train Station for the 2nd world peace conference gives you the right to have a 4min youtube video… well maybe it does, but who the fuck is Tim Newton and why are they obsessed with you, Art Party and The Human Factor? And while we are on Picaso was it an honour or was he just a self-righteous, wannabe radical? Have you seen this speech, it says nothing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ya7jkFrvc7k. Of course you’ve seen it you were there.

Picture of a Dove how cliché!

I have been unreliably informed that you believe Sheffield’s trade council is “on it’s arse” and so it is not necessary for us to inform you that this is indeed the case. Your inability to adapt to the victory of the ruling classes neo-liberal ideology, has gutted Sheffield Trades council of any real clout leaving it in the same dead end cul-de-sac the rest of the left is in.

The new left movement can not be born out of the broken fractures of the current left, it must be born out of new resistance while aiming to learn from the mistakes of the old. To put it another way, we refuse to fuck-up in the same way you did, we will find our own way to fuck up.

Having said this we wish to affiliate to Sheffield Trades Council. So allow me to introduce ourselves. We are the Psychedelic Bolsheviks (PB), we believe in classless society, and that abolishment of class must be an act of the working class, we believe that the left has failed to take the link between culture, art and politics seriously, we dream of a society where drugs will be used not as a form of escapism but for pleasure and/or spirituality alone and we believe in WHALES, one of which is called Trollidarity (to troll in solidarity).

We believe that those who do not appreciate (but not necessarily enjoy) Jazz are some of the most backward and reactionary elements of the class, so fuck them.

To conclude, we the Psychedelic Bolshevik (PB) are a historical materialist, pro choice , anti-zionist , ultra – left sympathizing  class conscious organisation of wreck heads.

We believe that our affiliation to the trades council will be beneficial for both parties, we can bring a fresh, if often irrelevant, perspective to a dying organisation. You can provide us with lessons you have learnt from all your fucking mistakes. And together we can end our collective sobriety, and temporarily escape (if you wish of course, this part is not compulsory we understand there a multitude of reasons why people may chose to remain sober, and we respect those).

I hope you have a lovely birthday on the 7th of May.

Solidarity,

Mushroom Watcher of the Psychedelic Bolsheviks (MW-PB)

Written by Andrew Coates

May 21, 2017 at 11:44 am